By Nan Jensen, Pinellas County Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences Program Leader
The rising energy costs, bad weather in the agricultural regions, and growing global demand for food are some of the factors that have caused the price of food to rise significantly over the past year. In the last several months alone, we have seen a double-digit increase in the cost of many of the products we buy in the supermarket.
To help you get the most for your money, try some of these simple cost saving strategies.
Make a list and stick to it
This can help you avoid some of the temptations that are lurking in the snack aisle, the candy aisle, and at the check out counter.
Buy produce in season
Check the food section in your newspaper to find the best buys for the week based on what is in season. Produce in season is usually priced to sell. In Florida, we are fortunate to have many types of produce available to us. Find out what’s in season http://pinellas.ifas.ufl.edu/sustainability/sustain_local_grown_food.shtml. Also, shop your local farmers' markets for great deals on local produce. There is a list of local markets on the Families and Consumers page on the website:
Check out the sales
Plan meals around what is on sale. Use store circulars to help you find some good bargains. When buying staples, take advantage of the sales or the "buy one, get one free" deals.
The coupon insert in the Sunday paper can help you save money on things you normally buy. There are also some on-line websites like ValPak http://www.valpak.com/ and Smart Savings http://www.smartsavings.com/ that can help you save as well. Become familiar with their privacy policies though as you generally have to provide personal information.
Try canned, frozen or dried
Next time you are making that favorite recipe, try using frozen, canned, or dried foods. They may be less expensive compared to fresh, yet are equally nutritious. Produce is typically frozen, canned, or dried at the peak of ripeness, when nutrients are plentiful. Fish and poultry are often flash-frozen to minimize freezer damage and retain freshness. With frozen foods, you can use only the amount you need, reseal the package, and return it to the freezer. If it's properly stored, there's no waste. Rinse canned foods to get rid of extra sugar or salt. Dried fruits are concentrated in flavor and a great substitute for fresh fruit. Using powdered or evaporated versions of milk in soups, casseroles, mashed potatoes, or desserts can go a long way to stretch that food dollar. Buy the form that gives you the best price for your needs.
Buy less expensive protein foods
When possible, substitute inexpensive, sources of protein like beans, eggs, tofu, and legumes for more expensive meat, fish, or poultry. If you eat a meatless meal once a week you are more likely to increase your consumption of healthy plant foods while saving money. Try using a smaller portion of meat, fish, or poultry and extending the dish with whole grains, beans, and/or vegetables.
When you do buy meat, look for lean cuts
Lean cuts of beef are those that include the terms "loin" or "round." Buy a whole chicken and cut it up instead of paying the butcher to do it for you, or buy the less expensive "family pack" and portion it into airtight freezer bags.
Cut down on food waste
Think about how you are going to use the food you put in the cart, particularly perishable foods. Leftover vegetables, poultry, or meat can be a great addition to soups, stews, salads, and casseroles. If you have a roasted chicken for dinner on Monday night, you can turn into Chicken Divan for dinner on Wednesday night. Add a loaf of whole-grain bread and a salad to create a nutritious meal in minutes. Leftovers can make a great breakfast and lunch as well.
Bring your own
Instead of making a coffee stop on your way to work or going out to lunch, bring your own from home. Both of these strategies can add up to big savings. In addition, making lunch for you and your family is an excellent way to use leftovers and keep the ingredients healthy. Use freezer packs and containers to keep food at the proper temperature unless you have access to a refrigerator.
Consider store brands
Store brands are generally cheaper than the pricier national brands. Many grocery companies buy national-brand products made to their specifications and simply put their own label on the products. Ingredients are listed in order by weight so read the label to see if you are getting a good buy. Also look for simpler versions of your favorite foods. Buy plain oatmeal or simple cereals that contain fewer additives and are less expensive than fancier cereals.
Weigh the cost of convenience
In most cases, prepackaged foods can cost more. Also, the “100 calorie” snack packs are generally more expensive. Consider buying snack sized bags and make your own snack packs instead.
Buy and cook in bulk
Bulk purchases can be a great way to save money as long as they get used. Bulk warehouses like Sam’s and Costco can save you money but remember to take into account the annual membership fee. Cooking in bulk can save both money and time. Prepare food and freeze into “family-sized” portions. Portions will vary depending on the size of your family.
Check the entire shelf
Grocery stores will often place the higher priced items at eye-level, so look at the top and bottom of the shelf for potential better bargains
At checkout, watch scanners carefully. Some stores give you the item free if it is scanned wrong.
Try out your green thumb
For benefits that go beyond cost savings, plant your own fruits and vegetables. There's nothing better than fresh produce from the garden. University of Florida Extension has helpful gardening information to get you started http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/TOPIC_Vegetable_Gardening.